RNs from New York and Massachusetts hospitals traveled to Quito, Ecuador, Aug. 22-26 on a medical mission to Hospital Padre Carollo with the nonprofit Medical Missions for Children, based in Woburn, Mass. Members of the surgical team repaired the cleft lips and palates of more than 60 children.
Along with OR nurses from Milton (Mass.) Hospital, Brigham and Children’s Hospital in Boston and Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, nurses Erika Tsouris, RN; Bernadette Amitrano, RN; Vanessa Dominguez, RN; and Tori Calder, RN, of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., took part in the five-day surgical mission.
This was Tsouris’ first volunteer mission and the experience was one she said she will never forget. “This was my first mission and it definitely won’t be my last,” she said. “I can see how it almost becomes an addiction for the wonderful people that volunteer over and over again. It is a great reminder of why we all chose the medical profession.”Mission participants from LIJ Medical Center.
With three ORs and two dental clinics, the mission had five team leaders who were responsible for all the orders and direction for their teams. By day two, the teams had completed 16 cleft palate repairs, with the last case ending at 8:30 p.m. Day three cleft palate repairs and two tonsillectomies were performed. On day four, another 16 Ecuadorians underwent surgery.
Tsouris worked on about 75 surgical cases, the majority of which were children. Because she works in the adult SICU at LIJ, the experience was valuable. “I went into this mission with no prior PACU experience, no significant pediatric experience and speaking minimal Spanish,” she said. “I came out of the experience realizing how confident one can become working outside of their comfort zone.”
Dominguez was ill for part of the mission, but worked on more than 40 cases, including a little girl who was severely burned from head toe. “She was there as a plastics case to remove the web from her fingers,” she said. “She was so calm when she came out of the OR to me … as if she knew exactly what to expect because she had so many surgeries in the past. She was so sweet. She really touched me.”Mission volunteers, from left, Gloria Hicks, RN; Matthew Carlson, MD; Amy Saleh, MD; and Tony Bonazzo, MD, New England sales manager and Northeast continuing education specialist for Nurse.com Nursing Spectrum, repair a patient’s cleft palate.
For Dominguez, the experience was eye-opening. “You have to do so much with limited supplies to get the same results,” she said. “I realized how creative I was on this mission.”
Amitrano, a MICU nurse manager at LIJ, worked on cases in the PACU. Like Tsouris, she agreed the experience was well worth it. “I would love to participate in future missions,” she said. “This was an amazing experience. One thing I would like to do or ask other people to do for future missions is to bring a notebook and write down funny, sad, interesting things that happen and keep it forever.”
Tsouris and Amitrano were able to do that through photographs of one little boy who had had reconstructive surgery on his nose. Like many of the children they cared for, he had been born with a cleft lip and palate. “He had already undergone multiple operations and revisions, leaving him with minimal nostrils and almost no lip area in between his nose and upper lip,” Tsouris said. “Despite constant difficulty breathing and knowing what pain was to come, he continued to smile and thank everyone in a little nasal voice both before and even after his traumatic surgery.”
Amitrano agreed the little boy was a PACU favorite. “The boy came out of the OR with huge red tubes coming out of his nose to help structure the nose. I [thought he] would wake up in so much pain and be miserable [but] when he woke up from anesthesia, he sat quietly and smiled,” she said. The boy had an additional surgery to remove the tubes and after the OR was just as calm and polite.
That same day, the boy presented Tsouris with a gift. “He barely let out a peep when the packing was removed from his new nose and after one more hug from him and his mom, they handed me a handmade bracelet of local seeds to remember them by,” Tsouris said. “Fighting back tears, all I could think about was how I would never forget them even without their generous gesture.”
For information on Medical Missions for Children, visit www.mmfc.org.